Robin van Rijthoven

33 Impact of semantics on word decoding 2 Introduction Learning to read is important to become functional literate in today’s society. The process of reading involves activation of orthographic, phonological, and semantic features of words (see Coltheart, et al., 2001; Seidenberg & McClelland, 1989). In learning to read, children learn that words constitute of speech sounds that can be represented by letters. By learning the letters and recoding orthographic representations into phonological representations, children become proficient in reading (see Ehri, 2005). Phonological factors are also seen as most critical in predicting early success in reading (Hulme et al., 2005). Research has shown that phonological awareness, rapid automatized naming (Swanson et al., 2003), and working memory (Jongejan et al., 2007) can be seen as important predictors of early word decoding. For children with dyslexia, however, the mapping of orthography to phonology is far from trivial. Many of them experience a phonological deficit that obscures the assignment of phonology to orthographic word representations (Snowling & Göbel, 2010). Research also indicated that phonological awareness, rapid naming, and working memory are generally low in children with dyslexia (Tilanus et al., 2013). Given the presence of a phonological deficit in children with dyslexia, it might well be the case that these children could compensate such a deficit with a strongly developed semantic system. It can be assumed that there is a reciprocal connection between semantic abilities and phonology in the mental lexicon (Li et al., 2004) and that the development of semantic abilities may give a boost to the development of phonological abilities (Van Goch et al., 2014) and thus facilitate the process of learning to read (e.g., Van Bergen et al., 2014). However, the possible beneficial role of semantic abilities in the development of word decoding in children with dyslexia has so far only received scant attention in the literature. Therefore, in the present study, we explored the direct and indirect contribution of semantic abilities to the levels of phonological and orthographic abilities in Dutch children with dyslexia. Role of semantic abilities in learning to read Learning to read involves grasping the alphabetic principle that involves the acquisition of mappings between orthography and phonology. This requires that children become aware of the sound structure of their language. In the literature, it has indeed been found that phonological abilities predict children’s success in learning to read. To begin with, phonological awareness (i.e., theawareness of spokensounds in language) hasbeen found to be related to the process of mastering the systematic spelling–sound correspondences and to contribute to accurate and fluent word decoding (Melby‐Lervåg et al., 2012). There is also abundant evidence that rapid naming which involves the accurate and efficient storing of detailed phonological or orthographic information, is closely related to word decoding (Georgiou et al., 2012; Norton & Wolf, 2012). And it has also been shown that